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2 November 2000
Dating Violence Affects Both Victims And Perpetrators
by George Atkinson

Severe dating violence has negative repercussions for its victims and perpetrators alike, suggest the results of one of the largest studies of its kind.

"Little research has addressed the impact of dating violence and forced sex victimization and perpetration on adolescent well-being," noted lead author Ann L. Coker, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Coker and colleagues analyzed responses from nearly 5,500 high school students in South Carolina. The students were all participants in the South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 12 percent of the students were involved in severe dating violence -- such as hitting, kicking, or throwing someone down -- in the past year, approximately half as victims and half as perpetrators. In addition, approximately 16 percent of the nonvirgin study participants reported they were victims of forced sex, and 5 percent reported they forced sex on another.

Since violence levels appeared to remain constant throughout all four years of high school, the researchers suggested starting community or school-based violence prevention programs earlier, in middle schools.

Severe dating violence and forced sex appeared to take a toll on the well-being of adolescents --whether they were the victims or perpetrators of the violence. Female victims of severe dating violence and forced sex were more likely to report poor mental and physical health and suicide attempts than other females.

Male perpetrators of severe dating violence were more likely to report poor mental and physical health, dissatisfaction with life, and suicide attempts, Coker and colleagues found. The study results appear in the November 2000 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The pattern of violence is probably established prior to beginning high school," noted Coker. "Early interventions may reduce the severity of dating violence and potential health impact of this violence."

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